An Ugly Alliance

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It’s ironic that America finds itself allied with such unsavory characters in a morally motivated crusade against the barbarians of ISIS.  From what I know of the Saudi royal family, I wouldn’t put their pictures on any poster for benevolent government.

These dictators rule with an iron hand, I understand. And the society they rule seems to be little better than the Islamic state that the Suni extremists hope to create. From what I’ve read, it’s a society in which young girls are forced into marriage and women are forbidden to drive cars, for example.

Conditions are much the same in Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as far as I can determine. This alliance seems to be a particularly unsavory group of oppressive dictatorships.

By choosing such allies, America is sending a disturbing message to the world.

I know, President Obama did not want to be seen as waging a unilateral war against a Muslim group. But is it any better to be seen as the ally of brutal dictators?

I read that Turkey is expected to join the coalition. I know nothing about today’s Turkey, but history does not paint a rosy picture of that country’s past. Modern Turkey was built on the graves of the Christian population of the Ottoman Empire. And its brutal aggression against neighboring countries has left a toxic legacy in the Balkans. More recently, the Turkish government has been accused of bloody suppression of minorities – including the Kurds. And the Kurds in Iraq and Syria are America’s most reliable allies.

One of the factors in global terrorism is the way in which dictators like the Saudi princes behave. I suspect it’s America’s close ties with these despots that have made some terrorists so eager to strike at the United States.

To complicate the issue even more, America’s new allies are all Sunnis, and it was America that toppled the Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein, clearing the way for a Shiite takeover of Iraq.

Do America’s strategists really expect the  Shiite Iraqis to fight shoulder to shoulder with their mortal enemies in the campaign against ISIS now? Do they expect the Sunni Iraqis to fight against ISIS, which is a Sunni sect albeit a rogue one,  in order to protect their Shiite government?

Another suspect notion is the idea of arming “moderate” rebels in Syria. Doesn’t the phrfase “moderate rebels” seem like an oxymoron to you? It does to me.

As things stand now, the United States and its Arab allies are bombing enemies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a bloody dictator America would like to see deposed.  Meanwhile, Congress has approved money to arm rfebels fighting Assad.

Once again, the US is fighting on both sides of a civil war. To my unschooled eyes, that looks like a sure way to lose.

Don’r get me wrong. I understand why the Obama administration is pursuing ISIS into Syria. For one thing, no group should be allowed to behead journalists and massacre minorities. For another, the ability of a violent jihadist organization to control a country of its own would present a terrifying threat to America.

But I wish America had different allies. Failing that, President Obama should have considered going it alone.

Click for more on the new war.

Click for the war profiteers.

Click for Turkey’s past.

Click for more on the Saudi princes.

Click for even more.

 

 

It’s a Sick, Sick World

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As we teeter on the edge of World War III with Russian bombers being intercepted by Canadian fighter jets and with religious zealots raging out of control, leaving a bloody trail of severed heads, the issue of the day is…

Kendall Jenner’s weight.

I’m not sure who Kendall Jenner is but I am not in the know. I hide out here in the backwoods of Florida with my hands over my eyes and cotton in my ears.

I recall an Olympic athlete named Bruce Jenner. He was one of those Superman types. Remember? Perhaps Kendall is some kin of his.

Or maybe not. Names mean nothing out there in the world.

The sick, sick world.

It’s a world in which nothing makes sense. A world in which young women can be “fat shamed.”

That’s right. The lead item in Yahoo news today is a warning that “Kendall Jenner’s fat shaming hurts women.”

I don’t know any women who give a hoot about Kendall Jenner or the fashion police. But I do know a lot of men who like ‘em “fat” like that.

If that young lady is fat, then fat is cool.

Indeed, we Jamaican men might even like a few more inches on those hips. We don’t much fancy “mauger ‘ooman.”

So tell me why, as Yahoo reports:

The 18-year-old has been the subject of bullying claims and fat shaming in story after story, and the attention is not only damaging to the young adult herself, but also to her peers, admirers, and others, as well.

According to the story, “agents” are urging the model to lose 17 pounds. I guess they want her to starve herself and look like those anorexic boy/girls that fashion designers often get to show off their creations. That kind of pressure should be against the law.

While obesity is obviously undesirable and even dangerous, a reasonable level of body fat is essential to good health. And the experts will tell you women normally have more fat than men because of physiological differences such as ovulation.

Yahoo rightly deplores the culture of the super skinny. Assistant Editor Lauren Tuck observes:

Unfortunately, the media often irresponsibly covers matters related to women’s bodies, and it has the potential for serious harm.

Ms. Tuck reports that:

Sarah Jackson, a psychologist at University College London and a researcher for a recent fat-shaming study, tells Yahoo Style that weight-related teasing and stigmatization have been shown to have negative effects on well-being and can lead to psychological distress. She notes that Jenner is clearly very thin, and “calling her fat sends out a strong message to impressionable young readers that might inspire unhealthy aspirations for thinness and extreme dieting.

All I have to add to this timely warning to those “impressionable young readers” is that real men don’t like super-skinny chicks either.

Click for the Yahoo story.

Click for a healthy level of body fat.

 

Managing the Vote

repugsAs we head into the home stretch of this campaign season, Republicans are doing everything they can to keep anyone who might be a Democrat from voting. It’s so blatant it would be funny if it weren’t so alarming.

They have their work cut out for them. So little time, so many likely Democrats – poor people, black people, Hispanics, old people, women, students…

That’s what happens when you antagonize wide swaths of the electorate. But they’re giving it the old college try. In states across the country, the Republicans are passing laws demanding hard-to-get voter identification, cutting back on early voting and purging Democratic-sounding names from registration lists.

The campaign focuses most on minority voters. The ACLU sums up the situation this way:

Minority voters still face significant obstacles in registering to vote and casting ballots. Attempts to manipulate the law in ways that will disadvantage communities of color continue nationwide

But it’s also aimed at students and the disadvantaged of any complexion. More and more, the Republicans represent only middle-aged, white, male Americans. Rich white, male Americans. And they don’t want to let the rest of us get to a ballot box.

In this ugly scam, even the courts are complicit. I’m sure you remember how the right-wing Supreme Court justices struck a blow against democracy by gutting the Voting Rights Act? Well, the rest of the justice system is doing its part, too.

The latest example comes from Wisconsin, where the  Republican majority on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has overruled a lower court’s decision and upheld a new law requiring some 300,000 residents  to go and get picture IDs if they want to vote. Not just any picture ID, specific kinds of ID that the Republican controlled legislature favors (and you know that doesn’t include student cards).

Wisconsin has lots of company.

As Leo W. Gerard writes in the Huffington Post today:

Since 2010, Republicans have passed voter-suppression laws in 22 states, and nearly half the nation’s population could be affected in November’s balloting. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP have succeeded in postponing and overturning some. That includes the one in Pennsylvania, where the law’s Republican supporters conceded in court they had absolutely no evidence of in-person voter fraud.

Voter fraud. That’s what the Republicans are protecting us against. Even though they can’t find any fraud.  You never know, there might be fraud somewhere some time.

Or not. According to Gerard’s article:

The Brennan Center for Justice studied the allegations of in-person voter fraud and described it as essentially a myth, an event that almost never occurs.

Voter ID laws are just a part of a broader strategy. You know about gerrymandering, of course. That’s where legislatures redraw voting districts to lump as many Democrats as possible into as few districts as possible, in some instances giving each Republican voter more than twice the clout of each Democratic voter.

Then there’s that trick they have of moving polling stations as far away as possible  from suspected Democratic hotbeds – like universities. And eliminating Sunday voting because they figure poor people can’t get time off during the week to vote.

With all this going on, I can’t imagine why any Democrat would voluntarily stay home in November.  You would think that those of us who can still vote wouldn’t let an army keep us from the polls.

Click to read Gerard’s article.

Click for more on voting rights,

Click for acceptable Wisconsin IDs.

 

Weird & Weirder in Kansas

I met a guy from Kansas once and he seemed quite normal. He was managing a phone company in Trinidad and we played a few rounds of golf together while I was on vacation there in the mid-1970s. But surely he must be an exception. From what I’m reading these days, Kansas is really, really weird.

For one thing, Kansas is one of the reddest of red states – despite the fact that their governor has inflicted economic disaster on the state by implementing the bogus policies you hear those Republicans preaching about. You know – subsidize the rich and corporations, and let the rest of us go hungry. That kind of thing.

The governor, a pig farmer’s son named Sam Brownback, eliminated taxes for small businesses, cut the highest income tax rates by 25 percent, and made smaller cuts for people with lower rates.

Of course, that left the state drowning in red ink and its residents without an array of essential services.

To their credit, some Kansans have figured out what’s going on – enough of them to put the governor’s job in jeopardy and even endanger long-serving Republican Senator Pat Roberts, who is up for re-election in November. So they’re going to vote Democrat, right?

Not necessarily. They might be fed up with the Republicans but those weird Jayhawks are not about to put a Democrat in the Senate.

They might, however, elect an Independent – specifically Independent Greg Orman.

So, with their majority in the Senate teetering on the brink, the Democrats decided to fight weird with weird. Democratic candidate Chad Taylor announced he was dropping out of the race so he wouldn’t split the anti-Roberts vote.

Weird enough for you? It gets weirder.

Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach refused to remove Taylor’s name from the ballot. He said Taylor hadn’t filled out all the right forms or something like that.

So the Democrats sued. And the Kansas Supreme Court decided Taylor had filled out the right forms and was officially out of the race. So is Kobach giving up?

No, this is Kansas. It gets weirder still. Kobach insists that Democrats must field a replacement candidate and he has given the party eight days to do it.

So where do we go from here? Who knows? This is Kansas, remember?

Click for more on the Kansas Senate race.

Click for more on the governor’s race.

Click for the economic disaster in Kansas.

 

How Does China Do It?

http://investing.covestor.com/content/2014/05/alibaba-ipo-yahoo.jpg

A Chinese e-commerce company named Alibaba – something like eBay and Amazon wrapped up in one package – set records with its massive multi-billion-dollar IPO on the New York Stock Exchange this morning. And this could just be the beginning. Expect more Chinese megabrands to emerge on the world stage soon.

I am amazed at China’s success, although – from what I know about the society – I wouldn’t want to live there.

How does China stay out of war for example? I don’t know of one Chinese soldier on foreign soil this morning. Chinese traders yes. Chinese investors – they’re pledging billions for India and building resort hotels in the Caribbean. They are locking up sources of vital raw materials in Latin America and Africa. All of this without one drone strike.

I know, by now you’re calling me a Communist. But praising China is not praising Communism – not as I know it, anyway.

China is obviously a capitalist power and becoming more successful at practicing capitalism all the time. The marketing of products like the Xiaomi smart phone is a case in point.

 In an article in The Drum, David Brabbins of Prophet in Hong Kong reports that:

One emerging brand is turning brand building on its head by basing the entire company around customer-driven design. In bringing the ‘customer-development’ philosophy of internet companies to a hardware product category, it is rewriting the established order of the smartphone industry.

It’s called Xiaomi – “Think of ‘show me’ and then pronounce the first word as if it was ‘shower’” recommends Hugo Barra, the ex-Google Android boss who now heads up the company (it has recently shortened to ‘Mi’ for a global audience) – and it’s transforming the way smartphones are developed, priced, promoted and sold, while reinventing how brands are built in the digital age.

It has a killer lean business model that’s making everyone else look expensive, and this gives it a huge number of competitive advantages.

As I said, I’m not planning to move to China any time soon. From what I know, the vast country is in the grip of ruthless tyrants who have no patience with dissidents. Here in America I enjoy precious personal freedom.

But China must be doing something right.

You don’t hear ISIS threatening to wreak havoc in Beijing. You don’t hear Putin rattling his warheads at China. Yes, the Japanese are mad as hell at the Chinese for claiming some islands in their area, and the Vietnamese also have their shorts in a knot over territorial disputes with China. But that’s hardly the same as the bloody crises in which America and Europe  are involved.

The way I see it, China is the ultimate pragmatist, free of restricting dogma or ideology to do whatever works. And that philosophy seems to be working very well indeed. 

Unfortunately, it implies freedom from morality, too. And that’s a frightening trade-off. One that I personally would not dream of accepting.

Click for Brabbins’ article.

 Click for the Alibaba IPO.

Click for Chinese investment in Latin America.

 

Time to Fade Away

U.S. Sen. McCain Discusses Proposal For Enhanced Rescission Line-Item Veto Authoritynewt

Are you surprised to see John McCain (top photo) on TV? How about Newt Gingrich (bottom photo)? I am surprised. And discouraged. They are like a bad cold that just seems to hang on forever. Surely these old war horses have had their day and it’s time for them to fade away?

I suppose the 24-hour cable channels have a hard time finding recognizable faces to fill their endless cycle of “news.” But there must be “experts” out there who haven’t worn out their welcome in our living rooms.

What could McCain say now that we haven’t heard many times over? Surely everyone knows he wants to bomb, bomb, bomb any and everybody. He is the voice of endless war, the advocate of perpetual bloodshed. I think he is mentailly unbalanced, but that’s just me. The cable TV producers obviously think he is some kind of sage.

I won’t go into McCain’s checkered past. He is widely hailed as a war hero, but there’s another, darker side to his life that doesn’t get much attention.

Gingrich is another tainted blast from the past that continues to haunt our TV screens. What could he possibly have to say now? Hasn’t he been discredited over and over and over?

Yet he remains a sought-after source of wisdom on the issues of the day. On Tuesday, for example, he made a speech on housing before the Bipartisan Policy Center. The Huffington Post’s Zach Carter observes that it “epitomizes the soft corruption of Washington elites at their worst. ”

Everyone who has been listening for the past two or three decades must know that Gingrich is in the business of lining his own pockets and has no concern for the nation’s welfare. He and his associates churn out an endless stream of newsletters, books, tapes – even children’s books – to mine the vast credulity of American “conservatives.”

The Huffington Post piece recalls that while Gingrich was in Congress, he was a diehard defender of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, organizations that played a key role in creating the housing bubble that triggered America’s worst recession in more than half a century.  And when he was ousted from his lofty Congressional perch, he raked in more than $1.6 million as a consultant for Freddie Mac.

Yet on Tuesday, this same Newt Gingrich lectured policy makers on the dangers of too-big-to-fail institutions backed by government guarantees.

In this age of non-stop newscasts, Americans are exposed to all kinds of bogus “experts” – think-tank hacks and PR flacks who are paid to create and spread propaganda, for example. But I don’t think any of these media parasites are as annoying as the worn-out fogeys the cable channels dredge up. Fogeys like McCain and Gingrich, for example.

Click for the Huffington Post story.

Click for McCain’s shady past.

Behind the scenes with Gingrich.

 

I Hit the Mute Button

For the next six weeks we will face a plague of TV ads designed to make us vote one way or another. I usually hit the mute button on my remote when I see one coming on. But occasionally I don’t get to the remote in time and I have to suffer through the mischievous nonsense.

There is no regulation for those ads, apparently. It seems candidates and their PACs pay their money and air whatever they like, true or false.

Take the ominous sounding commercial cooked up by the Rick Scott campaign here in Florida. Scott’s company, as you might know, paid a fine of more than a billion dollars for defrauding Medicare and he still got elected governor of our wretchedly uninformed state.

So I find it ironic that he is trying to paint Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor who became a Democrat so he could run against Scott, as the one who is a crooked politician.

The commercial is impressive. But it is a crock.

Here is how the Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo and Jay Weaver sum it up:

With soft piano music in the background, an anonymous Republican in Gov. Rick Scott’s latest attack ad levels an explosive claim about Democrat Charlie Crist and Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein.

“I got swindled by both Rothstein and Charlie,” the man says.

But not only is there no evidence to support this accusation about Crist, the Miami Herald has identified the man as Fort Lauderdale investor Dean Kretschmar — and found that he never made that allegation in his successful lawsuit to recover millions of dollars in Rothstein-related losses.

The truth is a lot less melodramatic than the commercial. According to the Herald, what really happened was that:

Rothstein showered Crist and other politicians, mostly Republicans, with tainted money that almost all of them returned after the scheme was exposed in 2009. Rothstein used his close relationships with Crist, other politicians, sports stars, and area religious and charitable leaders as an advertising tool to dupe investors.

That doesn’t make Crist a saint, of course. But if ever there was a case of the pot calling the kettle black, this is it.

 

Yes We Can. Yes We Must

Climate-Cartoon

 

It’s that time of year. The phone surveys are beginning. Who am I going to vote for and why, the callers want to know. Last night was a little different. The lady on the phone also wanted to know what issue I think is most important in the November elections. She listed some heavyweight stuff – jobs and the economy for example, managing growth, illegal immigration, legalizing medical marijuana…

I had no trouble picking my number-one concern – preserving the environment. For if we don’t protect our environment, nothing else will matter.

Yet the environment is getting short shrift in the media these days. The “news” is all about ISIS beheadings and NFL uglies beating up their “loved ones.” And I can understand why. The melodramatic stuff is more exciting. But climate change is far more important.

As surely as the sun rises each day, we the people are destroying our earth.

I know, Republicans will tell you it ain’t necessarily so. But if you believe what Republicans tell you, I’m sorry for you. You need help.

Fortunately, there are people working their butts off to reverse the practices that so terrifyingly threaten our environment.

This week, for example, tens of thousands of marchers will invade midtown Manhattan to demand action to fight climate change. Timed to coincide with the first UN summit on the climate crisis, the march is being hailed as the largest-ever demonstration to combat global warming.

The media may not give the march much attention. But President Obama is listening. He is proposing such measures as a carbon tax to discourage carbon emissions. And Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott of Virginia is proposing an even steeper carbon tax that is designed to cut total U.S. carbon emissions by 30 percent in 10 years.

But you can forget about such measures if coal and oil billionaires like the Koch Brothers win control of Congress in November. They are spending millions to convince us that climate change is perfectly natural and that their polluting plants pose no threat to Mother Earth.

And I don’t have to tell you what party they are voting for.

 

Poisonous Predictions

Election

 

There are no sure things in life. That’s about the only thing I’m sure of. California Chrome did not win the Triple Crown. Dewey did not beat Truman.

So I wish the pundits would stop giving the Republicans control of Congress. It’s only September, folks. The polls don’t open till November.

I never thought much of Jay Carney. I didn’t like him when he was President Obama’s press secretary and I don’t like him now that he is a CNN analyst. I like him even less this morning after reading that he predicts the Democrats will get a thrashing in the impending midterm elections.

Carney is not alone. Far from it. The dispiriting refrain is everywhere. Even the begging emails I get from various Democrats have a desperate ring to them.

Have these people never heard of self-fulfilling prophecies? Or are they intentionally sabotaging their party’s chances?

If they keep up their defeatist lament, we the Democratic voters could lose heart and stay home. Their dire prophecy would be fulfilled in spades.

What’s really sad is the wonkish reasoning behind the defeatist predictions. Like so many others, Carney’s argument is based on historical generalizations, not on the issues of the day. He says, for example, that the sixth year is “always” bad for a president’s party and several Senate seats now held by Democrats happen to be in states that traditionally vote Republican.

I’ve seen that reasoning before. But “states” don’t vote and the past is not “always” prelude to the future.

It’s people who vote. And the American people have an overwhelming case against the Republicans. The vast majority of American women, for example. Whether they live in a red state, a blue state, a purple state or a polka dot state, how can any American woman vote for a party that has demonstrated such disregard for her rights and such contempt for her as a human being?

How about American students? If you were a student would you vote for the party that is working overtime to keep those exorbitant interest rates on your student loan?

You know that black Americans have recognized that the Republican Party is a fortress of white privilege – even white supremacy. Check those history books the pundits like to quote and you’ll find the vast majority of America’s black voters opt for the Democratic candidate every time.

Do you also know that Hispanic voters are recognizing they have no future in a Republican America? The Republicans have made it abundantly clear whose side they’re on. And it’s not on the side of the Hispanics, that’s for sure.

I could go on and on. First Nation Americans, would-be immigrants of every nationality – and their relatives – how could they vote Republican? That also goes for civil servants, teachers, firefighters, law officers, trade union members, fast food workers, the sick, the unemployed, the poor, gays, marijuana smokers… The Republicans have thumbed their noses at them all.

The Grand Old Party is firmly in the camp of just one constituency – white privilege. Make that male, white privilege. In fact, make that straight, male, white privilege (especially straight, white, male, religious bigots)… and not the straight, white, bigoted, male students, either – not unless the students can afford to pay for their education up front.

The way I see it, hardly anybody has any reason to vote Republican. Not even the rich, white, male bigots in their cocoon of privilege. If they have any sense, they must realize their days of wine and roses are numbered. The lopsided economic and social system on which they rely cannot survive forever. Le deluge is coming unless there is radical reform. And soon.

Yu want my my prediction for November? Here it is: Democrats win it all. Republicans lose. (But only if we the people get out and vote.)

Click for Carney’s prediction.

 

A Culture of Rage

Life in a civilized society is inevitably frustrating. We cannot always do as we wish. We have to modify our behavior to accommodate the other members of our society. But as we mature – if we are lucky enough to mature – we adjust to the restraints that we must endure to live in a civilized society.

Of course not everyone matures. Some people just grow older.

Ray Rice obviously hasn’t matured.  Adrian Peterson (photo above) obviously hasn’t matured.

Rice is the thug shown in that video the TV stations are so in love with. You know, the one where he knocks his fiancée cold in an elevator and drags her limp body around like a sack of sugar.

Peterson is the thug who beat up his 4-year-old son. According to one news report:

Peterson grabbed a tree branch, which he referred to as a “switch,” according to law enforcement sources, removed the leaves and struck the child with it repeatedly.

The beating reportedly resulted in cuts and bruises to the child’s back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum, along with defensive wounds to his hands.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both Rice and Peterson are professional football players.

To me that’s what American football is all about – savage violence.

I don’t pretend to understand American football. I am told that it involves a high level of skill and intricate strategic maneuvers. But all I see is a crowd of overweight guys running into each other, grunting like cave men and knocking each other about. Then I see them, one by one, limping off the field and getting treated for some injury.

I am forever grateful to my daughter Grace that she did not encourage either of her sons to play football. My elder grandson Jonathan opted for the comparatively gentle sport of wrestling, and his younger brother, Adam, chose swimming and badminton.

I realize that I am part of a tiny minority when it comes to football. Most Americans – especially the males – are enraptured by the game. The NFL is hugely profitable because of this love affair.

I think this says a lot about American society.  And what it says is not complimentary.

I think football fans are venting a massive reservoir of pent-up violence when they cheer their favorite warriors, even urging them to “kill” the opposing players. I see the NFL as just one symptom of a culture of violence, a culture in which guns are glorified, obscenity is admired and women and children get beaten up. This violence is bred, at least in part, by the inevitable frustrations and disappointments of the desperately unsatisfying daily lives that most of us must lead.

I suppose the NFL will sternly punish Rice and Peterson. The media will insist on it.

But I find this depressingly ironic. Where do you think Rice and Peterson learned their primitive behavior? Probably in the NFL. And if they came to the NFL with a background of violence and thuggery, the NFL did everything in its power to make them even more savage.

The sickness of violence runs deep and wide in America. It will take a lot more than suspension of a couple of players by the NFL to cleanse the infection.